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Elvis Presley’s Nurse Once Publicly Lamented over the ‘Miserable’ King of Rock’ N Roll's Final Days

Titi Dokubo
Oct 01, 2021
11:00 A.M.
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Elvis Presley's private nurse Letetia Henley Kirk tried to save his life by improving his diet when he was flirting with death, but it didn't help in the end. He would rather rely on prescription drugs.

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On August 16, 1977, the King breathed his last, leaving behind thousands of grieving fans who later discovered that the circumstances of their idol's death were less glamorous than anything they could have imagined.

Forty-four years after his death, here's a look at his final days, the addiction, and what those close to him thought about those moments.

Photo of Elvis Presley performing | Photo: Getty Images

Photo of Elvis Presley performing | Photo: Getty Images

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ABOUT PRESLEY

Some figures have left their mark in music history in the twentieth century, crossing the boundaries of notes to reach the status of true icons.

Among these greats is Elvis Aaron Presley, who was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi. His first contact with the world of music came through the Church.

Elvis Presley strums his acoustic guitar in a portrait in 1956 | Photo: Getty Images

Elvis Presley strums his acoustic guitar in a portrait in 1956 | Photo: Getty Images

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The King of Rock and Roll is still one of the most loved and respected artists of all time, an extraordinary character who survives the passage of time thanks to his talent and life that was filled with mystery.

Towards the beginning of the '50s, almost by chance, he began his artistic career. It didn't take long before his unique style was noticed by others, and thus, started a revolution that changed the face of music. The rest, as they say, is history.

Elvis Presley performing Hillbilly Heartbreak on stage in Hollywood, California | Photo: Getty Images

Elvis Presley performing Hillbilly Heartbreak on stage in Hollywood, California | Photo: Getty Images

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Within a decade, he became a true icon of the 20th century, an inspiration for hundreds of artists of the rock and roll and rockabilly scene. It was a feat so remarkable that he was appropriately nicknamed the King.

In over 20 years of career without ever performing outside of the United States except for Canada, he produced a range of records from classic rock and roll to rhythm and blues, country music, western music, gospel, and more.

Portrait of Elvis Presley | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Elvis Presley | Photo: Getty Images

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PRESLEY'S FINAL DAYS AND DEATH

Nicknamed The King, Presley was only 42 when he was found unconscious on the floor in his bedroom by his fiancée Ginger Alden. A few hours later, he was pronounced dead at the Baptist Memorial Hospital.

His death is one that sparked a slew of conspiracy theories over the years. Some have called for further proof of his untimely demise. Some have even claimed to have seen him since his death.

Portrait of Elvis Presley | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Elvis Presley | Photo: Getty Images

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His death surprised many people because they did not know that the King of Rock and Roll suffered from a long-standing addiction to prescription drugs.

His struggle with his health meant that he needed a nurse on the grounds when his aide and former security guard, Al Strada, could no longer handle the duties of handing him his medications.

Nurse Kirk was then hired alongside her husband. Kirk met Presley at Memphis medical clinic in 1968 when she treated him for saddle sores. By 1972, she was living on the grounds so she could attend to him.

Elvis Presley dancing in a stylized prison uniform in a promotional portrait for director Richard Thorpe's film, "Jailhouse Rock" | Photo: Getty Images

Elvis Presley dancing in a stylized prison uniform in a promotional portrait for director Richard Thorpe's film, "Jailhouse Rock" | Photo: Getty Images

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She recalls that he was a very spiritual person who often read his bible. He was family-oriented and always had a way of getting what he wanted. She said,

"It was exhausting…watching him slowly self-destruct."

She knew he was miserable because he'd gained so much weight, and when she had tried to help him improve his diet, it didn't stick. He relied heavily on prescription drugs which were readily available to him at the time.

Elvis Presley performing in Hollywood on June 22, 1956, | Photo: Getty Images

Elvis Presley performing in Hollywood on June 22, 1956, | Photo: Getty Images

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She was at her clinic when Presley, her patient and good friend, died. Though she felt very fortunate to have known him, she wished she could have done something to make him a happier person.

His ex-partner Linda Thompson recalled his battle with drug addiction in her 2016 autobiography titled: "A Little Thing Called Life: On Loving Elvis Presley, Bruce Jenner & Songs in Between."

Elvis Presley with Linda Thompson at the Hilton Hotel in Cincinnati | Photo: Getty Images

Elvis Presley with Linda Thompson at the Hilton Hotel in Cincinnati | Photo: Getty Images

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Presley had struggled with his health since 1973 after he divorced his first wife, Priscilla Presley. At that time, he spent three days in a coma from an overdose of barbiturates, drugs that helped him sleep.

This was just the start of his problems and his second overdose happened in less than a year. He blamed his dependence on drugs on his intense touring schedules.

Elvis Presley with his bride, the former Priscilla Ann Beaulieu Wagner, on their wedding day, May 1, 1967 | Photo: Getty Images

Elvis Presley with his bride, the former Priscilla Ann Beaulieu Wagner, on their wedding day, May 1, 1967 | Photo: Getty Images

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An investigation also revealed that his heart had almost doubled its normal size, and his autopsy revealed that he was in an advanced stage of cardiovascular disease.

Although he had never smoked, his lungs were riddled with emphysema, making it almost impossible for him to breathe; his bowel, which was almost twice the normal length, contained at least four-month-old stools.

Elvis Presley performing on the Elvis comeback TV special on June 27, 1968 in Burbank | Photo: Getty Images

Elvis Presley performing on the Elvis comeback TV special on June 27, 1968 in Burbank | Photo: Getty Images

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He had been warned by Dr. Larry Wruble, a specialist in internal medicine, that if he continued to take uppers and downers, it would eventually kill him.

This did not deter him as he continued to seek out ways to get his prescription drugs. When his doctor would refuse to give him drugs, he would go to Palm Springs, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas.

Elvis Presley at the Hilton Hotel, Hartford in Connecticut | Photo: Getty Images

Elvis Presley at the Hilton Hotel, Hartford in Connecticut | Photo: Getty Images

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On the day of his death, he had taken a cocktail of his usual prescription drugs to help him sleep. The drugs had been left with his nurse, Kirk, by his doctor, George Constantine Nichopoulos, also known as Dr. Nick.

He took a second dosage, not being able to sleep, and when this did not work, he called his aunt Delta Mae. Mae was able to get to his nurse at the office, and she reluctantly gave him a third dosage containing two valmids.

Elvis Presley performing in concert at the Philadelphia Spectrum | Photo: Getty Images

Elvis Presley performing in concert at the Philadelphia Spectrum | Photo: Getty Images

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At 9:30 a.m., he informed his fiancée of his need to use the restroom. When she woke up from her nap and could not find Presley by 2 p.m., she decided to search for him and found him unconscious in the restroom.

Emergency services arrived by 2:33 p.m., and by 2:56 p.m., he was at the emergency room at Baptist Hospital, where they pronounced him dead by 3:30 p.m.

Elvis Presley in Las Vegas during a concert in December of 1975 | Photo: Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Las Vegas during a concert in December of 1975 | Photo: Getty Images

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Former Shelby County Mayor and Sheriff Bill Morris recalled that barely two months before Presley's death, he and his wife went to see Presley, and they discovered that he was so huge and had put on so much weight.

Morris grew up with Presley in the same post-Depression years in north Mississippi while his wife, Ann, was Presley's classmate at Memphis' Humes High School.

Elvis Presley performing on the Elvis comeback TV special on June 27, 1968, | Photo: Getty Images

Elvis Presley performing on the Elvis comeback TV special on June 27, 1968, | Photo: Getty Images

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He further revealed that Presley was always a country boy at heart and had a deep respect for law enforcement. He supported initiatives to deal with drug abuse — especially illegal drugs.

Morris also cleared the air that Presley was a loner because he liked people and was always nervous when people were not around him. He also made sure to have a good personal relationship with the people he grew up with.

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